hope

Every year on September 11th, I struggle with what to do here on Diary. With how to remember the lost and celebrate the quiet heroism that we saw that God-awful day twelve years ago. With how to honor the victims of the horrific acts of evil, and ultimately, of cowardice.

I’ve thought briefly about going dark. About not saying a word.

That’s not who I am.

I’ve thought about trying to find meaning in the incomprehensible.

I can’t.

And so, what I do, year after year, is try to figure out how to live in a way that honors the astounding bravery and the boundless compassion that we saw amid the wreckage that day.

So here it is.

For those we lost, and will never forget …

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Katie came into my room, clutching a rolled up piece of paper. She’d been cleaning out her desk, a month-long project that would take an hour if not for her penchant to stop to contemplate the universe every eight minutes or so. Nonetheless, she’d found something, and she wanted me to have it.

“This is for you, Mama,” she said, offering up her treasure in an open palm.

I took the piece of paper from her and unrolled it. This is what it said.

**

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All great questions must be raised by great voices, and the greatest voice is the voice of the people-speaking out – in prose, or painting or poetry or music; speaking out – in homes and halls, streets and farms, courts and cafes – let that voice speak and the stillness you hear will be the gratitude of mankind. 

– Robert F Kennedy

I smiled at it, pretending that there weren’t tears welling up behind my eyes, then looked up at her. Her face was expectant.

“Do you like it?” she asked. “It reminded me of you.”

I took her in my arms. “Honey,” I said, “I love it. Do you know where this came from?”

She pulled back and shrugged. “Nope, just found it in my drawer.”

I explained that I had made it. That I’d actually made hundreds of them. That I’d searched for inspirational quotes from people who had stood up for human dignity and societal inclusion throughout history. That I’d printed their words and cut them into strips. That I’d given them out with every slice of pizza that we sold at her elementary school’s Family Game Night, raising money for the then newly formed Inclusion Committee. I told her that we’d put the ones that were left over into the teachers’ mailboxes. I told her that I’d heard that we’d been laughed at for doing it. That it was silly. But that I’d also heard parents that night asking each other about them. Talking about the quotes. That I’d even heard one explaining that it was a lesson about standing up for each other. I told her that that’s why I did it.

She smiled. “Well, I’m giving it back to you then,” she said. “Because I think you should have it.”

I looked long and hard at the words. Coming back to me from my daughter, they were new again.

All great questions must be raised by great voices, and the greatest voice is the voice of the people-speaking out – in prose, or painting or poetry or music; speaking out – in homes and halls, streets and farms, courts and cafes – let that voice speak and the stillness you hear will be the gratitude of mankind. 

This is what I believe. This is why I write. This is why I encourage others to write. Or to talk. Or to tell their stories, from their perspectives, about their own journeys, in whatever ways they can.

Because I believe, I truly believe, that together, our stories can bring down walls. That when raised as a group, our voices can erode prejudice, eliminate shame, fuel change. I believe that large-scale dehumanization can only happen when we keep each other at a distance, and that telling our truths and exposing our hearts to one another brings us too close to allow for anything but compassion to fill whatever space is left between.

Want to know what Bobby said about believing? He said, “It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

Someone asked me recently what I hoped my legacy would be. It’s both easier and harder than you think to answer that question. But, of course, I began as you might have guessed I would:

“Having been the best mother I could have been, according to my own children.”

And then I followed up as you probably know me well enough to have assumed I would too: “Having prompted people to think differently about difference.”

The simplest truth is that the road to both of those goals lives n Bobby’s words – in a thousand tiny acts of courage and in holding fast to faith and in so doing, creating sparks of hope that tomorrow can be better than today.

Isn’t that what it is to be a parent? To believe in the possibility of a better tomorrow?

Today, of all days, as we pause to look back in sadness and force ourselves to cast our eyes forward in hope, I cling to the faith that it is possible.

All of it.

In honor of their courage, hope.

5 thoughts on “hope

  1. I live in the shadow of the the New York skyline. My husband works for TSA. My stomach has a big knot in it and has for days. However, my God is in control.

    You need not worry about your legacy, Jess. It is already in place.

  2. Love everything you said. My husband and I were working in Midtown that day. Both safe, friends safe. It was the strangest day, so terrible, yet so amazing in how NYC came together – and STAYED together. There is an energy in that city that I have loved and still love.

    One thing that Sept.11 taught me was – I have NO time for infantile BS and crap attitudes. Once a city is collapsing around you and the possibility of death hangs over you, your worldview changes. I have a lot of love and patience, but when it comes to cruel behavior and selfishness – my fuse got very short.

    Life is too short to put up with that kind of crap.

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